Abdallah al-Muhaysini and Muslah al-Alyani, two senior clerics in Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the former al-Qaeda branch in Syria, resigned on 11 September 2017 after leaked recordings showed HTS commanders musing about assassinating al-Muhaysini. There is clearly a well-orchestrated campaign underway to weaken HTS by discrediting and dividing it, and the sophistication of the campaign gives every indication of being the work of a state intelligence service, almost certainly Turkey’s. Continue reading →
A statement from Issam al-Barqawi, far better known as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the Jordan-based Palestinian jihadi-salafist cleric, was released in English on Telegram on 15 August 2017. The statement dealt with his view of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), highlighting again the questions around this Syrian-based jihadi group and its relations with al-Qaeda. Continue reading →
Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a speech today entitled, “Sham Will Submit to None Except Allah” or “Syria Will Submit to None Except Allah”. The short speech—around five minutes in length—was part of the “Brief Messages” series, “Brief Messages to a Victorious Nation 6,” to be exact. An English transcript of al-Zawahiri’s speech was released by As-Sabha Media and is reproduced below with some editions in transliteration, explanatory notes added, and interesting sections highlighted in bold. Continue reading →
Mostafa Mahamed (Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir) is a U.S.-designated terrorist, an al-Qaeda operative who has formally resigned from al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), which was previously Jabhat al-Nusra and has now reorganized itself as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Earlier this month, on 11 March, Michael Ratney, the U.S. special envoy to Syria, released an open letter (in Arabic) labelling all constituents of HTS as terrorists seeking to exploit the Syrian opposition, and incited divisions within the Islamist sections of the insurgency by including Ahrar al-Sham—heretofore a close HTS ally, though recently involved in clashes with the group—as part of the Syrian revolution. HTS issued a formal response on 12 March and, on 20 March, Mahamed issued his own response, which is reproduced below. The main themes were anti-Americanism and dissuading the Syrian armed opposition that the U.S. was an ally; arguing that HTS was different than JFS and unconnected to al-Qaeda; and the strong impression of a threat should the U.S. move against HTS—while explicitly denying that such a threat was being made. Continue reading →
Abdul Munim Halima (Abu Basir al-Tartusi), a Syrian previously based in London, is an important jihadi-salafist scholar, who has diverged from some aspects of jihadism since the 7 July 2005 massacre on the London subway system by al-Qaeda. As the Syrian rebellion has progressed, Halima has departed even further from key jihadi ideologues that continue to take al-Qaeda’s line and support its branch in the country, Jabhat al-Nusra, which formed as a splinter from the Islamic State and has now rebranded itself as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. Halima has long expressed the view that al-Nusra and its leader, Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani), were insufficiently focused on Syrian needs. Halima tended to favour Ahrar al-Sham, an insurgent group with deep links to al-Qaeda, but which has presented its jihadism within a more nationalistic framework. Halima retains sway over Islamist opinion, especially in Syria, so his fatwa today calling for al-Shara to be put on trial for crimes against the Syrian revolution is noteworthy. Halima was especially exercised that the recent attempts by al-Shara to separate his organization from al-Qaeda came so long—and so unconvincingly—after so many had begged him for so long to carry out this policy. Instead, says Halima, al-Shara bullied and dominated the Syrian insurgency in the north under the flag of al-Qaeda, providing the regime of Bashar al-Assad with an alibi for his barbaric conduct in suppressing the insurrection. This is one of several “crimes” Halima says al-Shara should face a court for. The fatwa is reproduced below with some editions to transliteration and syntax. Continue reading →
Last night it was reported that al-Qaeda’s overall deputy, Abu Khayr al-Masri, had been killed by the U.S.-led Coalition in Syria with a drone strike. This was soon seeminglyconfirmed by pro-Qaeda channels, and Abu al-Khayr was said to have been buried this morning. Though the emphasis on targeting jihadist leaders can be overdone, the demise of Abu al-Khayr is an important development, and one with significance beyond itself.
Abu al-Khayr’s career is demonstrative of a few interesting trends within the Jihadi-Salafist movement, primary among them the willingness of the Iranian revolution to work with the Sunni jihadists, al-Qaeda very much included, when it suits its purposes, particularly in undermining Western interests. Abu al-Khayr also elucidates the changed nature of al-Qaeda, where the “centre” (AQC) could now be said to be more in Syria than the Afghanistan-Pakistan, and where al-Qaeda operates both an overt and covert presence to try to secure a durable foothold in the Levant, which might in time be a base for attacks against the West, currently suspended only for tactical reasons. Continue reading →
The U.S. Treasury on Thursday imposed sanctions on two senior operatives associated with al-Qaeda in Syria (AQS). This is undoubtedly part of the escalating campaign against AQS. The two men are interesting on their own account, however, and give a glimpse at some of the things that have shaped jihadism across the Fertile Crescent. In the one case, that of Iyad Nazmi Salih Khalil, better-known as Iyad al-Tubaysi or Abu Julaybib, this history begins with the earliest days of the Islamic State (IS), from which AQS splintered, in Iraq before Saddam Husayn was deposed. The other case, that of Bassam al-Hasri (Abu Umar al-Filistini), highlights the events at the outset of the Syrian uprising, when the regime of Bashar al-Assad set in motion its strategic plan to militarize and radicalize the nascent insurgency in order to present the population and the world a binary choice—the dictator or a terrorist takeover. Continue reading →